Archive for the ‘Narayanpatna’ Category

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A Constitution’s Dead Army

April 9, 2012

Thirty years ago, a retired armyman’s body was being dragged by a police jeep as his adivasi brethren, armed with bows and arrows, helplessly tried to stop the convoy but were fired upon and chased away.

This article appears in Daily News & Analysis on the 9th of April, 2012.

Gangaram Kalundia was bayonneted in the police van, and then dragged across the village, for speaking for the rights of his people, and there was never any prosecutions against the police for his murder.

Gangaram was an adivasi of the Ho tribe, who joined the army when he was 19 years old, fought in the war of 1965 and the war of 71 as part of the Bihar Regiment, and had risen to the rank of Junior officer.

He voluntarily retired and returned home to find that his village Illigara in Chaibasa of West Singhbhum of Jharkhand (then Bihar), along with some 110 other villages would be submerged due to the Kuju dam project, that was funded by the World Bank.

He would organize his people to fight for their fundamental rights against displacement and the project exactly thirty years ago, to only be brutally murdered by the police early in the morning on the 4th of April, 1982.

‘This is where we placed stones to stop the convoy that had Gangaram,’ Said Tobro, then 14 years old, now pointing to a small woodland by the roadside, ‘and this is where we were, with bows and arrows, but the police fired upon us and chased us away.’

While Gangaram Kalundia was killed in 1982, a long agitation had still sustained itself, that had often driven people like Tobro underground, aware that the police were rounding people up. Surendra Biduili, 52, was a part of the agitation against the dam, and the eventual victory in 1991 when, ‘the World Bank withdrew the money.’

‘Their reports said that the dam would only submerge lands that had paddy,’ he continued, ‘but it was a lie, we were cultivating vegetables as well.’

It was much later when Gangaram had become a symbol for oppurtunistic politics, and his shaheed divas, would be attended by every other political party, or as Surendra would say, ‘First everyone used to be afraid to mention Gangaram’s name, now all the parties of contractors and dalaals come for his shaheed divas.’

In The Thousands

Gangaram Kalundia was not the only adivasi leader killed for representing the rights of people. Just a few kilometres away from Chaibasa, across the Sal tree forest, is the village of Bandgaon, where Lalsingh Munda was killed in broad daylight in the market on the 1st of November 1983. His concerns were that sacred grounds were being used by non-tribals and contractors as a waste dump.

‘You travel by bus to Chaibasa, well, back then, people used to get off the bus to piss into the sacred grounds.’ Said Phillip Kujur, a member of JMACC (Jharkhand Mines Area Coordination Committee).

Phillip Kujur was also associated with Lalit Mehta who was brutally murdered in Palamau in May 2008, Niyamat Ansari who was killed by the Maoists in Latehar District on the 2nd of March, 2011, and on the 29th of December, 2011, Pradip Prasad was killed by PLFI extremists in the village of Mukka, Latehar.

Sister Valsa who fought for the adivasis in Pachuwara in Pakur District of Jharkhand was murdered on the 15th of November, 2011.

The roads in adivasi villages are punctuated with memorials for fallen leaders and activists.

The office for NGO Birsa in Chaibasa has a memorial stone with other names: Vahaspati Mahto killed in 1977 in Purulia, Shaktinath Mahto killed in 1977 at Dhanbad , Ajit Mahto killed in 1982 at Tiraldih, Beedar Nag killed in 1983 at Gua, Ashwini Kumar Savaya killed in 1984 in Chaibasa, Anthony Murmu killed in 1985 at Banjhi, Nirmal Mahto killed in 1986 at Jamshedpur, Devendra Mahji killed in 1994 in Goilkera. The memorial ends with the sentence, ‘anaam shaheed….hazaaron mein.’ (Unknown Martyrs, in the thousands)

‘When I was young,’ Said Phillip, ‘I was travelling with two veteran activists, who kept pointing to village after village saying, ‘here’s where another cadre of ours was killed’, and there I was, another man they trained to fight for people’s rights. Finally, I turned to them and asked, ‘you taught all these people how to fight, but did you teach them how to stay alive?’

In recent times, K Singanna, one of the first organizers of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh in Narayanpatna Block of Koraput District of Odisha was shot thrice in his back in a police firing incident on the 20th of November, 2009. Since then, another leader Nachika Linga has been living underground in fear of arrest, or death, as posters calling for him to be caught ‘dead or alive’ were posted all over Narayanpatna after the firing. Both individuals were responsible for organizing the Kondh adivasis to claim their rights as per the Fifth Schedule, to free themselves as bonded labourers on their own land.

In Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh, Muria and Koya adivasis committed to taking the cause of their people via rallies, writ petitions, and organizing them to fight peacefully for their rights, have almost all been arrested as alleged Maoists. Manish Kunjam, an ex-MLA, has faced repeated death threats and his own cadre, responsible for working in the villages, have been in and out of jail.

On International Labour Day, the 1st of May, 2008, in Kalinganagar Industrial Park of Jajpur, Odisha, one of the leaders of the Anti-displacement group, Dabar Kalundia was attacked outside the gates of the Rohit Ferrotech Steel Plant and escaped, but Omin Banara (51) was killed.

In Memory of Gangaram

‘They all talk about Gangaram, but they don’t care about his wife.’

Birangkui Kalundia, widow of Gangaram, lost her only daughter when she was giving birth to her grandchild. She was widowed by the state, and her daughter would be another statistic to those 80,000 women who die every year due to childbirth.

Her brother-in-law, would also cut ties with her, often dividing the produce of Gangaram’s 15 acres for himself, leaving her out with nothing, and after his death, she moved out of the village his husband fought for, to move in with her new caretakters, her nephew and his wife, where she lives with a quiet pride to this day.

She still holds onto the medals won by her husband, the citation for his President’s Medal,  speaking in soft tones unforgivingly about the men who killed her husband, coming to terms with injustice in this life, to a hope for justice in the next.

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Death In A Quiet Corner

March 21, 2012

This op-ed appears in abriged form in Daily News & Analysis on the 19th of March, 2012.

‘Torture has long been employed by well-meaning, even reasonable people armed with the sincere belief that they are preserving civilization as they know it. Aristotle favoured the use of torture in extracting evidence, speaking of its absolute credibility, and St.Augustine also defended the practice. Torture was routine in ancient Greece and Rome, and although the methods have changed in the intervening centuries, the goals of the torturer – to gain information, to punish, to force an individual to change his beliefs or loyalties, to intimidate a community – have not changed at all.’ – from Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, by John Conroy.

On the 11th of August of 2010, Mandangi Subarao of Kondabaredi village of Rayagada district of Odisha, allegedly committed suicide by hanging himself in the offices of the Anti-Naxalite cells of the police station.

He killed himself in the police station that specializes in tracking down and killing Maoists, in fear of the Maoists, according to the police.

His case was eventually sent to the National Human Rights Commission by the National Campaign For The Prevention Of Torture, who asked the state to submit action taken report by 2 February 2012. The police continue to be on duty. A similar situation had developed in Dantewada when the NHRC took cognizance of the death of Pudiyama Mada after newspaper reports detailed his torture by the Central Reserve Police Force, and his eventual ‘suicide’ in the Sukma police station.

Meanwhile, the medical report on adivasi teacher Soni Sori’s condition that reached the Supreme Court stated that stones were found lodged in her vagina and her rectum while she was in police custody.

The Supreme Court gave the Chhattisgarh government 55 days to respond, and sent her back to the Chhattisgarh jails, and has revealed once again, that the rule of law and the constitution is divorcing itself from the aspirations of citizen of the state, whose fundamental Right To Life has to be protected by the Courts, not something the Court grants her, or the police is allowed to take away the instant they consider her a Maoist sympathizer.

Her hearing was supposed to be held on the 25th of January, 2012, but its turn never came up. Instead, the Superintendent of Police Ankit Garg, who she accused of torturing her, won the President’s Medal for Gallantry on Republic Day, the day the constitution of India came into being. He was awarded for his conduct during an encounter with the Maoists in Mahasumand District in 2010.

To the state machinery: it remains a story of he said, she said, as the allegations of torture in police custody leave no witnesses besides the tortured themselves, but in this case, the accused has a medical report from Kolkatta to say that her body was violated beyond anyone’s imagination, unlike the Mandangi Subarao case, where a man who kills himself in the police station in fear of the Maoists has done so in a district, out of sight and mind, and buried in the quagmire of the hopelessness of raising one’s voice over endemic abuse.

The National Human Rights Commission has gone on record to say that 1574 custodial deaths took place between April 2010 and March 2011. And between 2001 and 2011, there were around 15,231 custodial deaths, according to The Asian Center For Human Rights who had done a similar study on custodial violence in 2008, where they had claimed around 9,000 people were killed in police custody since 2000, at an unchanging average of four per day.

The Police State Against The Woman’s Body

16 year old Meena Khalko was killed in an alleged encounter and accused as a Maoist. Allegations would surface that she was raped and murdered and not killed in crossfire, and the Chhattisgarh Home Minister parroted his police officials who said that she was ‘habitual about sex’ and had links with truck drivers.

Ishrat Jahan who the Special Investigation Team confirms was killed in a fake encounter recently was questioned by our own Home Minister G.K. Pillai who finds that her checking into a hotel room with another man is suspicious.

In none of the 99 cases of rape allegations against Special Police Officers or security personnel in South Bastar did the police file even a single First Information Report even after the Supreme Court ordered them to do so. The National Human Rights Commission Enquiry Team, (comprising of 15 police officials out of 16) only investigated five cases out of 99, where in one instance, they visited the wrong village and construed that the allegations were baseless as they couldn’t find the victims.

In the other village of Potenaar, there were discrepancies in the testimonies of women who were raped three years earlier and there was no FIR filed in the police station. Thus they construed again, that the allegations were baseless, as women traumatized brutally by assault have to apparently remember the intricate details of everything that was done to them and lodge a complaint against the same police that rapes them.

The women of Vakapalli of Andhra Pradesh who were allegedly gangraped by the special anti-Naxalite forces the Greyhounds, are still fighting for justice in a case that was widely highlighted in Andhra Pradesh but the accused policemen continue to be in duty, and the state continues to construe their allegations as nothing but Maoist propaganda.

Even though the women’s statements were recorded both before the police as well as the Magistrate: all of them stated that they bathed after the assault, they did not resist the assault as they were afraid of violence, thus, there was no sign of injuries (besides one woman who had a boot on her face), and thus no physical evidence of rape, and the case would run aground by a system that ignores the Supreme Courts own directives on rape, which mention that inquiries should be done on accusation alone and the burden of proving innocence falls on the accused.

A 12 year old girl who was allegedly raped by the member of the elite anti-Maoist C60 group of Maharashtra, in the village of Paverval on the 4th of March, 2009, the alleged rapist himself, claims with strong conviction, that it’s all Maoist propaganda mischief.

In Narayanpatna block of Orissa, in the village of Taladekapadu, on the 19th of April, 2011, a 14 year old girl was allegedly gang-raped by four security personnel, yet without making her medical report public, the Crime Branch claims the entire allegation is false. The girl’s family belong to the Kondh tribe who have been criminalized in a district that has seen mass arrests, police firings into crowds, mass abductions and tortures, and the burning of villages, and to them, the idea of approaching the judicial system itself is oppressive.

And the cases like hers are those that never receive the kind of attention that the Soni Sodi case has, where a woman stood up for her rights, who approached the media that would listen to her, who repeatedly spoke about the torture faced by her family by both the state and the Maoists, and would yet be condemned by the system, while those who defend human rights watch helplessly.

The State As A Bystander

A woman attacked with acid by a man in the middle of the market while a crowd watches without doing anything can be described akin to Soni Sodi being brutally tortured as the judiciary, the press, the senior police officials, larger civil society and the general public sit quietly.

A group of committed activists, a dissident media and international human rights organizations have been repeatedly bringing her case to the public eye, yet as a matter of fact, have failed to prevent her torture.

Bystanders, and the silent consent of the general public plays its role in perpetrating human rights violations. If a woman is being tortured, first it’s veracity is questioned, then when it is confirmed, she is dehumanised with the tag ‘Naxalite supporter’ so people can continue to be bystanders, and turn the pages over the suffering of a fellow human being. When it comes to rape, a victim is dressed indecently, not that men need to keep their dicks in their pants. When it comes to rape accusations against the police, the very lackadaisical and haphazard manner of the investigation, the complete lack of interest shown in even lodging FIRs, doesn’t entertain any seriousness of the crime and only manifests the complete bias of the police who are convinced that all accusations against their own, is malicious propaganda meant to ‘demoralize’ their ranks.

Bystanders, when there are many of them, will always pass on the responsibility of doing something when there are others in the crowd. Responsibility is diffused. Responsibility is further diffused, when the crowd looks around and notices no one is doing anything. Chief Ministers are quiet. Home Ministers are saying a rape victim was habitual about sex. The Highest Court of the land, sends a woman back to her torturers, to ensure procedure. But when a police official suspected of torture is awarded by the president of the nation, what kind of message does it give to the police?

The police however have been convinced that the Maoists have been using the laws of the land, the courts and Writ Petitio, to hamper their counterinsurgency efforts. And counterinsurgency is completely incompatible with human rights – what are human rights violations to one, are standard operating procedures to those in uniform.

State of Anomie

Psychologist Ervin Staub quotes in The Origins and Prevention of Genocide, Mass Killing, and Other Collective Violence, that ‘Dominant groups usually develop “‘hierarchy legitimizing myths” or legitimizing ideologies that justify subordinating other groups. They often see themselves as superior and deserving of their status due to their race, religion, intelligence, hard work, worldview, or other characteristics. Groups also embrace ideologies of development and visions of economic progress, identifying the victim group as standing in the way.’

And Jon Conroy quotes him extensively in Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, The Dynamics of Torture, where Staub studied mass human rights violations in Argentina during the military Junta, where “….over time, ‘the many kinds of victims made it difficult [for the perpetrators] to differentiate between more or less worthy human beings. It became acceptable to torture and murder teenage girls, nuns and pregnant women. Learning by doing stifled the torturer’s feelings of empathy and concern.’ Furthermore, the Argentine torturers could see that their actions were supported by the larger society. Their superior officers signed release forms for kidnappings, relieving the lower orders from responsibility for the acts they carried out. The judiciary commonly accepted the military’s versions of events. The press – threatened by prison terms for demeaning or subverting the military – largely accepted censorship and did not report on disappearances. Doctors were present in interrogation rooms…….The middle class, Staub says, was pleased by the junta’s economic policy and was unmoved by the repression that accompanied it.”

A considerable difference in India would be: the mainstream media censors itself not out of fear but for reasons it knows best.  The middle class, especially, is happier to be engaging with the indigenous adivasis as exhibitions in state-sponsered fairs. Doctors in Chhattisgarh had botched two medical reports on Soni Sodi.

In India, ‘development’, ‘economic progress’, have become the legitimate myths, justifications, war cries; the apathy, for the killing of the illegitimate children of the Republic.

That every day, four people are invisibly tortured to death in police custody reflects upon the society we are becoming, and the apathy that emanates from it, is the gasoline that falls into the tinderbox that is a lawless society holding a gun to its head, a neurotic world of violence where people kill each other for a packet of biscuits, or uncontrolable rage, or where the Border Security Force strips a man and beats him brutally and videographs it, as every institution of authority has broken down, where the new deities of profit, growth, development have destroyed the needs of human touch and conscience: where compassion, empathy, and mercy were quietly executed in some forest declared as a Disturbed Area or a ‘liberated zone.’

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Narayanpatna: Movement On The Run

February 5, 2011

This article appears in The New Indian Express on the 6th of February, 2011.

‘Nachika Linga’s owner’s house used to be this one,’ Says the Border Security Force commander, regarding the newest BSF camp set up at Podapadar village, one of the flashpoints of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh movement. The house in question belonged to Nila Kancha Parida who literally owned Nachika Linga – a bonded labourer on his own land who used to earn Rs.5 per month, eventually a leader of a tribal movement, and now, one of the most wanted people in Narayanpatna block. It is literally petty symbolism that the once-oppressor’s house is now used by the Border Security Force to track down members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, who stood up for their land rights in 2009.

Today, their entire movement has gone underground, over 150 of their members and their supporters are in jail, including Gananath Patra, of the CPI (ML), who was arrested as a Maoist, as well as his associate Tapan Mishra, who has already clashed with officials in the prison after going on numerous hunger strikes. Yet the vast majority of the CMAS live in fear further within the jungles, often on the move, without food, in constant risk of being apprehended.

Nevertheless, six Kondh tribal women and four infants had gotten onto the Hirakhand Express at Koraput railway station on the 25th of January 2011 to travel to Bhubaneshwar. For many of them it was the first time on a train. There was never any need to go to Bhubaneshwar, or anywhere beyond their jungles in Narayanpatna or Laxmipur before. But secretly, and quietly, these six women travelled to Bhubaneshwar, and were told that they would have to testify at a public hearing, to the National Human Rights Commission.

All six women have lost their husbands to state violence.

Balsi Kendruka w/o Andru of the village of Baliaput, Narayanpatna lost her husband on the 20th of November firing/’camp attack’.

Sonai Kendruka w/o Singana of the village of Podapadar, Narayanpatna lost her husband on the 20th of November firing/’camp attack’.

Kamla Tadingi w/o Ganguli of the village of Bagam, Narayanpatna lost her husband when he was picked up by the police in Narayanpatna, and died in custody in Koraput Jail on the 12th of April 2010.

Kamla Sirika w/o Ratna of the village of Siriguda, Narayanpatna lost her husband when he went for treatment for an unspecified illness to Narayanpatna town, and was arrested by the police and died in a hospital in Berhampur on the 8th of June, 2010.

Saibo Honika w/o Jimme of the village of Jogipalur, Narayanpatna lost her husband when the security forces raided her village. He was allegedly drowned in Janjawali river.

Singaru Huika w/o Katru of the village of Talameting,  Laxmipur was shot dead by the security forces the day after the Maoists had raided the nearby NALCO plant where they killed ten CISF jawaans and lost four of their own on the 12th of April 2009. Katru Huika is suprisingly even mentioned as a ‘public witness’ in the FIR filed regarding the NALCO attack.

And the women barely spoke at the hearing.

The irony is that K G Balakrishnan, chairman of the NHRC returned to Delhi a day before the hearing. (The bigger irony was that he would have been sharing the dias with the senior advocate Prashant Bhusan who, along with his father, had indicted him as one of the ‘eight corrupt Chief Justices of India’),’ in a now-famous affidavit.

The hearing itself indicted the government of Orissa regarding ‘state repression on the rise in the state particularly on people’s movements against displacement and land grabbing.’ As for the recent spate of encounters in Bargarh, Keonjhar, Jajpur and Rayagada, it had called for ‘an independent and impartial investigation’.

The Way Of The Gun

Since the firing on the 20th of November, 2009, still widely considered to be a ‘camp attack’ by the police and the administration, all that the Kondh adivasis of Narayanpatna have seen is the slow militarization of their lives. Not only have three BSF camps been set-up in Narayanpatna block, but Maoist activity has also been on the rise. There had been one IED blast that claimed four civilian lives in January 2010, and since then there have been numerous IEDs recovered by the police in regular intervals. Just recently another IED exploded on the 11th of January, 2011 near Jogi Palur, injuring three government officials.

There have also been a series of killings by the Maoists in August of 2010, most infamously, of Anand Kirsani, the leader of the embryonic state-backed anti-CMAS group, the Shanti Committee, who was also a Zilla Parishad member and a Congress party leader. The Maoists also killed a member of the CPI (ML), Arjun Kendruka as an informant. Another villager, Ghasi Kendruka from Gotiguda village was killed on the 15th of August. The General Secretary of the CPI (Maoist) Ganapathy himself has stated in a recent interview about the gains made by his party in Narayanpatna block, and against the ‘revisionist’ tendencies of other members of communist parties working in both Narayanpatna and Bandhugaon block. And there has been no secret that the Bandugaon movement and the Narayanpatna movement have been at odds over the last two years.

And yet the core issue remains land.

While the Shanti committee has been ‘finished’ after the murder of their leader Anand Kirsani, there is still no gaurantee that the paddy that rightfully belongs to the tribals would not be illegally split 50-50 between the tribals and the non-tribal Sahukars and ‘landlords,’ as had happened last year, after the suppression of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh.

Cultivation is taking place in many of the strongholds of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh at Narayanpatna, and yet the BSF presence is ominous. On the 27h of January itself, reports emerged that 6 homes in Musalmanda village of Narayanpatna were allegedly burnt down by the security forces.

Images from a video capture of the burning of the homes of Narayanpatna.  Courtesy – Source.

A Soldier’s Crisis

‘You know what would solve this whole Maoist problem?’ Asks a BSF commander, ‘There should be mandatory military service in either the CRPF or BSF by all citizens of India. This way some politician’s son can also end up at Podapadar.’

The imaginary border is drawn across the jungles, cutting across mainstream India and that which belongs to the Kondh of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh at Podapadar. The Border Security Force is once again strategically isolated as most security camps within the jungles are. A school functions a few metres from the camp, and hillocks surround the camp.

‘If we’re attacked, we’re on our own,’ Said the commander, ‘And we had asked for another spot, but they gave us this one.’

And the risks don’t stop there.

‘You don’t even have to ask us about mosquitoes,’ Said a BSF soldier, laughing, who mentions there have already been a handful of malaria cases in the camp.

Yet what remains striking is that the BSF soldiers were aware of the existence of bonded labour at Narayanpatna block. ‘Five generations of Nachika Linga were slaves.’ Mentions the BSF commander, yet the manhunt against him continues.

No one in Narayanpatna ever forgot the ‘dead or alive’ posters of Nachika Linga that were posted across the town.

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Narayanpatna: Murder In The Afternoon

March 23, 2010

‘NREGA scams, allegations of widespread corruption, tribal uprisings, police firings, murdered activists, and an acknowledged Maoist presence. Narayanpatna Block in Koraput district is a land where fact is fiction and rumour is truth, yet the unsolved mystery involving the alleged murder of an activist reveals more than one can imagine.’

At Malda village in Koraput district of Orissa, a community theatre group from the IAEET performs a play on labour, exploitation and it logically leads up to the NREGA. In the first act, landless labourers are working for a cruel landlord, the ‘Sahukar’ as they call him. They’re all underpaid, abused and treated violently. In the second act, there is a small revolt, all the villagers decide to cease working until conditions improve. There is a showdown, violent arguments ensue and the hapless villagers cower. The landlord manages to reinstate the status quo – if you don’t work, you all will just die of starvation.

In the third act, the villagers are tricked by a scrupulous contractor to go to another state for higher wages and better working conditions. Most of them decide to go and they are never heard of again.

Towards the end of the play, the audience is involved, and questions are asked about labour. And then the NREGA is introduced. A villager complains that they don’t get paid promptly. The actor responds to him. That he must complain, that he shouldn’t keep quiet. Another villager complains that the villagers don’t understand the procedure or how the act works considering most of them are illiterate. The actor says that they should take someone educated to see the muster rolls, the cards, and ensure everything is accurate. A few ‘Sahukars’ are in the crowd, quietly watching the play. Later on, the co-ordinator would say how at times, he’s accosted by them and taunted about how everything he says doesn’t matter.

‘Then they just go say the opposite of everything we try to say,’ says Amaresh, co-ordinator for the community-based theatre group IAEET, ‘There are many problems with the NREGA and we like to talk about them as much as we can.’

A few years ago, Narayan Hareka, a local tribal and social worker with a NGO was raising his voice about corruption and the discrepancies in the implementations of the NREGA. On the 8th of May 2008, he was found dead, his body brutally disfigured a few kilometers from his in-law’s village of Dandabadi. Some say it was an accident, others say it was a clear murder case. The police registered it as an accident. Case closed. Everything else is conjecture.

Today, in Narayanpatna, discrepancies in the NREGA are still prevalent and are probably the only facts. Apart from allegations of massive siphoning of funds, card holders are barely guaranteed 100 days work, and many card holders don’t receive any work at all. Mandangi Limbe of Palaput village at Narayanpatna, card number OR-11-007-006-013/8972, claims to have done no work in the last four years. Her job card has no entries, yet online at the NREGS website, she has been noted to have worked 48 days in 2007 and 2008, and received Rs.3000.

Kondagiri Lachama of Sanapalmunda village in Bhandugaon, card number OR-11-006-005-010/2661, says he worked three days when his online entries claim he has worked around 24 days and received over Rs.1680.

In 2008, the National Institute of Rural Development, Hyderabad had conducted a social audit on the NREGA in Orissa regarding these very kind of discrepancies. Their report was never made public yet a presentation by the NIRD was made available to the Express.

Sharanya Nayak of ActionAid who worked with the NIRD team on the social audit, quotes from the NIRD presentation that she acquired from the director, that, ‘The total wages paid to sample beneficiaries as per record is Rs.8104896/-, while the actual wages received by beneficiaries Rs.3388795/-; that out of total man days of 228038, in a sample of recorded man days of 115345, there were only 54860 actual man days. In other words, 53% of the man days are ghost days. They didn’t exist.’

Some wonder why the report wasn’t made public.

The Death of An Activist

I had decided to make some inquiries into details of Narayan Hareka’s case when I was at Narayanpatna, considering a villager told me something interesting when I started to ask him about the details of people killed by the Maoists over the last three years. The latest incident involved the killing of two non-tribals in the village of Kattulapet, Bandugaon in January, 2010. They allegedly refused to return adivasi land to the adivasis and were known moneylenders.

I would then ask him about Bhogi Ramesh of Kattulapet who was killed a long time ago. My source claimed he was a moneylender and liquor brewer who had gotten some indebted tribals beaten up by the police, and was thus killed for his ‘links’, by the Maoists.

‘He threatened them, he said he’d send the police to beat them all up.’ Said L, as he walked down the trail leading to one of the ‘interior’ villages of Narayanpatna, ‘Then the police did come one day, and they only beat up the villagers who were debtors. Then later the Maoists came and killed Ramesh.’

‘What about Patra Khosla of Bagaam village? They say the Maoists killed him too.’

‘He was involved in the killing of Narayan Hareka.’

‘And the Maoists killed him?’

‘Yes.’

‘How did they know he was involved?’

‘They did their own investigations.’

I decided to do my own. If I had to give any credibility to his story, I’d need some fact, some evidence or some acknowledgement from the Maoists themselves. I did not want to be left at an uncomfortable conjecture. The first thing I decided to do, was to locate the family, friends and colleagues of Narayan Hareka and see what I could find out from them. It seemed like an easy thing to do– to enter a block with a Maoist presence, where over the last few months, an adivasi uprising took place, hundreds of homes were broken down, the police fired into a crowd of tribals, mass arrests and combing operations became everyday events; and an all-India, all-women’s fact-finding team would be attacked by the locals with the alleged instigation of the police. Of course, everything gets all film noir, Red Corridor style.

Narayan Hareka, a Kondh tribal had two wives – the first wife Kantamani has allegedly gone underground as there is a warrant for her arrest. She used to work with him at the NGO Ankuran and would be closely associated to the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh in the coming future. His other younger wife Bando lives at a village called Kilmisi yet she’s being protected by her neighbours, who pretend to know nothing even though Hareka often worked in their village. The neighbours themselves only believe Narayan Hareka was killed in an accident. After some cross-questioning, they admit otherwise.

‘The Sondis say accident, the family people say he was murdered, we don’t know what to believe.’ Said one of the villagers, reticently, and it was obvious he didn’t want to say anything more – he didn’t know anything. They weren’t very happy to be talking to the press and they told us that we might fight Kantamani at Dandabadi. So we decided to go to Dandabadi.

Dandabadi is Narayan’s in-law’s native village and no one knows any Narayan Hareka. After some small-talk and some hesitation, we’re finally taken to their home. The door is latched. A few villagers smile to themselves. One of them knows his wife and says she has no idea where she is. I ask about Narayan Hareka’s oldest son. They don’t know his name.

A while later, I find his number from my contact. I call. The phone is switched off. I call everyday for a week. The phone is always switched off.

Then I decide to visit his old NGO Ankuran and hope to meet his colleagues. The building complex is known to be just a kilometre from the town of Narayanpatna. Here, I hope to find someone in Narayanpatna who knows Narayan Hareka, anyone. Yet we find an empty complex. There are around 10 buildings, decrepit, without a sign of habitation. Nothing remains. Even the electric sockets have been ripped out. A few old pamphlets, charts and posters lie on the floor.

A few tribals living nearby claim that the NGO left more than eight months ago, when the CMAS started to reclaim land from the non-tribals. A watchman claims that he wasn’t paid for the last two months he was there. We ask if there are any NGO workers nearby – we ask for Kantamani, and we ask about Narayan Hareka. We get nothing again. And it’s late. We don’t want to be caught at Narayanpatna overnight, we decide to return to Koraput after trying one more lead.

A day later, my contact-guide begins to receive phone calls.

‘Why are you asking about Narayan Hareka?’

‘What do you want to know about Ankuram?’

‘Why do you want to meet Kantamani?’

‘Who is asking about Kantamani?’

And we finally get a phone call from someone who calls herself Kantamani. She instantly screams at my contact. We tell her that we just want to know details about the life and death of her husband Narayan Hareka. She softens up, but says she’s another Kantamani.

The one we’re looking for has gone underground.

The Maoist Murders?

A day later, I called the Narayanpatna police station and speak to the Inspector-in-Charge about the details of the case of Patra Khosla. The inspector has only been there for a year and this is an old murder case. He calls someone else to inquire. He confirms that Patra Khosla was killed with a 9mm at 10 in the morning. There was no Maoist poster left next to the body. There may have been a letter but they don’t have it. His body was brought to the police station by family members but there’s no explicit proof that he was killed by the Maoists.

‘So tell me one thing,’ I asked the Inspector, ‘Would you by any chance have any phone numbers of the Maoists? Maybe I can just call them and ask them if they killed Patra Khosla.’

The inspector laughed. Thank God, he saw the joke.

But by this point, I was left at a dead-end. It was becoming more and more evident that the only way I can find out who killed Narayan Hareka and Patra Khosla would be to contact people who don’t want to be contacted, and trace down people who don’t want to be traced down. By this time, even L. who first told me about Patra Khosla had disappeared. All I had was one last piece of circumstantial evidence which I received from the Ankuran director Badalta, and a local reporter Subodhi.

‘Patra Khosla had some 17-20 lakhs in his bank account.’ They told me, ‘And he had no land, no job and no way to get so much money but from siphoning off from the SHGs he was handling.’ Said Badalta, ‘Narayan had warned him many times about it. He didn’t listen.’ Continued Badalta.

This was similar to what L. was telling me. But it didn’t matter. Murder doesn’t need to be a fact in Narayanpatna. It happens all the time.

As I was investigating this case, Mandangi Sahu Loknath was gunned down at the village of Nellawadi on the 10th of March, 2010. His family claims that the CMAS, in particular, the Bandugaon CMAS (distinct from Narayanpatna CMAS) was responsible for the attack. Adding to their suspicions, the CMAS Bandugaon had stuck posters condemning Loknath to death, implicating him in a gangrape over a year ago. Yet a few days later, the police claim a local journalist received a letter from the Maoists taking responsibility for the killing.

Did they really write the letter? I wonder. Yet I decided to leave Narayanpatna and on my way out, another sign of murder was being erased from the collective memory of the people of Narayanpatna.

An IED blast had taken place on the road to Narayanpatna a few weeks ago and a mangled corpse of a commander jeep lay on the side. Four civilians were killed, while all nine SOG personnel (Special Operations Group) who were sitting in the back had survived. The blast had torn through the front. One young child survived the blast but lost both his parents.

The remnants of the commander jeep lay on the side of the road for weeks later, a testament to just another simple act of murder, yet this time committed arbitrarily, without any fathomable just cause. Yet as I was leaving Narayanpatna, the jeep was gone. Taken away to the scrap yard I suppose. In the future, it probably never even happened.

The mangled remnants of a commander jeep that was hit by a Maoist IED, on the Narayanpatna road.

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Narayanpatna: Revisited

March 5, 2010

The remnants of Dom homes in the village of Podapadar, which saw clashes between the Adivasi Kondhs and the Dalits in May of 2009.

This article first appeared on the 7th of March, 2010.

An old Kondh lady smokes her cigar walking past Narayanpatna police station, without turning her head towards a gate where one of the leaders of a popular adivasi uprising lay dead with a cluster of rifle bullets in his back. It was the 20th of November 2009, when the Kondh adivasis had come to the police station to complain. An altercation broke out, the police fired and killed two tribals and wounded many. The police claimed that the Kondhs wanted to snatch weapons.

Recently, the issue of cutting paddy had come to the forefront as the Kondhs who had reclaimed and cultivated more than 2000 acres of land from non-tribals, had mostly gone into hiding due to frequent combing operations and arrests. Crores worth of paddy was about to go into waste. Yet the harvest began to resume and it has been alleged that the paddy was split 50-50 between Kondh families and particular landlords or ‘Sahukars’.

Collector of Koraput, Rajesh Patil was unaware of this distribution. According to him, the matter of splitting the paddy was left to the people themselves. Therefore, in the villages of Paching, Gadmaguda, Kandhasai, Bikrampur, Karikona, Khilua, Chankotasai and Rajasai, each Kondh family was left with five kerosene boxes of paddy – around 60kgs of rice, cultivated on land that traditionally belong to them.

In the villages where the uprising (Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh) had its roots, there was no splitting of the produce as all the rice went to the Kondhs themselves.

Similarly, as per Gram Sabha judgements, liquor is still completely banned in Kabriwadi, Dimtiguda, Sulupalamanda, Ketaravalsa, Lowpeta, Panaspadar, Unkadidi, Madiwalsa and Jangidivalasa.

The Arrests

The wives and children of the arrested Kondh tribal men of Podapadar, Narayanpatna.

Hidden out of sight is the state’s brutal crackdown on the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. There have been widespread arrests of anyone who was deemed to be even remotely associated with the CMAS, that the police claim is a Maoist-front.

Andru Nachika of Bhaliaput was killed on the day of the 20th November firing and now, his wife Balsi and two children only run into the jungles when they hear that the police are approaching their village.

There have also been more than 26 arrests from the village of Podapadar, the hometown of CMAS leader K. Singanna who was killed on the 20th November firing.

Another village of Jangidivalasa has seen 14 arrests, out of which around six are allegedly minors, who’re not in a juvenile home but in Koraput jail, which is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act 2006.

Puvala Malati s/o Sitayya from Jangidivalasa, has a school leaving certificate that clearly states that he is born on the 20th of March, 1995. He has been languishing in Koraput jail for over three months. He has been booked under section 121/121A of the IPC – Waging War against the state, and conspiracy to wage war against the state, Section 25 of the Arms Act, and section 3/4/6 of the Explosive Substances Act, 1908.

According to the FIR, he and some 14 others were apprehended by the police on the 29th of November, 2009 near the Jangidavalasa forests in possession of four SMG guns, five single-barrel country-made rifles, two arrows, detonators and CPI (Maoist) flags with communist logos.

Tapan Mishra, an activist of the CPI (Kanu Sanyal Group), is noted to have been arrested in the same incident, even as activists claim that Tapan Mishra was arrested at the train station at Parvatipuram, Andhra Pradesh. Amnesty International has already condemned the arrest of Tapan Mishra, claiming his arrest to be motivated by the fact that he had initially accompanied a seven member fact-finding team to Narayanpatna.

The villagers of Jangidivalasa also claim that five other young people who studied in the same class as 15 year-old Puvala Malati were arrested. One of them, Mandangini Narsu s/o Dullaiya suffers from epilepsy and recently had an attack on the 21st of February, 2010 at Koraput Jail.

From the village of Podapadar, almost every other family has a relative who is an undertrial at Koraput Jail. Suno Mandingi’s two sons Narsing and Linga are in jail. Rabena Wadeka’s husband Sombu Wadeka and his brother Benu Waderka are in jail. Dipayi Mandingis son Dama Mandingi is in jail. Narsing Wadeka is in jail with his father Palsu Wadeka, and his older brother Subana Wadeka.

Muley Mandingi is all alone in the village of Podapadar with her three children as her husband Betru Mandingi is in jail.

There are a total of 16 cases against the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, and more than 150 undertrials in Koraput jail with no idea of their rights.

‘One man Baria Buti suffers from nightblindness,’ Says Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, their defence lawyer and President of the Bar Association, Koraput, ‘Apparently he wages war against the state only during daytime.’

The Displaced

The displaced Doms of Podapadar at the Soil Conservation Building at Koraput, Orissa

Once the Kondhs began to re-assert their rights over the jungle, numerous clashes broke out between the Kondhs and the non-tribals, especially those of the Dalit caste. There was no secret that bonded labour was endemic to Narayanpatna and that the grievances of the adivasi were genuine when it came to liquor and land alienation. Now while the liquor trade was a source of profitable trade for non-tribals, it was a source of social devastation of the adivasi Kondhs. It has been often observed that the Kondh uprising against exploitation was genuine, but clashes between the Kondhs and the Dalits led to massive displacement of the latter.

There are still around 92 families of the Dom Caste from Podapadar living in miasmic filth in decrepit government buildings for Soil Conservation of Koraput town. The stench of faeces pervades the air, and while the administration has promised them homes as per the Mo Kudia Scheme, they fear they shall soon be evicted to make way for a CRPF camp.

They had initially lived at Narayanpatna town for 15 days, and then at the Collectorate of Koraput in May of 2009 and were refused further help by the then-collector Bichitrananada Das. They literally lived in the open during the monsoons. One woman Kondo Mahanandia (50) allegedly died of starvation or ‘khaibaku na payee’, according to the IDPs at Koraput.

Eventually, on the 7th of July, Gadadhar Parida was re-posted as Collector for Koraput district. The IDPs were then moved into the Soil Conservation building and they have been living there since.

‘We lost our NREGs card and we lost our ration card,’ says Pulati Kondpan, from her ‘room’, which used to be the toilet at the Soil Conservation Building. She goes on to claim that her ration is being siphoned off at Narayanpatna, ‘If we had that rice, at least, we could have managed here.’

Similarly, Suna Bagh of Podapadar claims that he hasn’t been receiving his pension of Rs.200 per month as per the Madhu Babu Pension Scheme, while Sushil Kumar Kondpan (15) says that because of displacement, he hasn’t been able to finish his studies.

Collector Rajesh Patil claims that the majority of the IDP children have been sent to school and that pensions have been given. Relief packages have also been provided to the IDP families. Each month, they receive either 45 kilograms or 90 kilograms of rice.

The Doms meanwhile also hope for a resolution and compromise with the Kondhs of Podapadar and wish they could return to their homes. Yet as combing operations have intensified in the area, and numerous cases are filed against the Kondhs and the leaders of the CMAS, an atmosphere for a peaceful resolution seems slim.

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Archive: State-Sponsored Lawlessness at Narayanpatna

March 5, 2010

Balsi Nachika lost her husband Andru during the 20th November firing and now lives in fear of combing operations at her village of Bhaliaput, Narayanpatna, Orissa.

This Article appeared in The New Indian Express on the 24th of December, 2009.

After the 20th November police firing at Narayanpatna, Orissa which left two tribals dead and innumerable injured, the situation has not only turned grim for the adivasis but a media blackout is helping to hide the complete militarization of the area.

There are reports that around 73 adivasis and members of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh have been beaten and arrested. While the jailer of Koraput was instructed not to allow the detainees to meet anyone, their defending lawyer, Nihar Ranjan Patnaik claims that around fifteen of the arrested are minors. Considering they are in Koraput Jail, it is a violation of the Juvenile Justice Act for minors are meant to be held in a juvenile remand home. Adding to this, was the recent attack on the all-India, all-women fact-finding team by the newly-formed ‘Shanti Committee’, with the alleged patronage of the police.

The Shanti Committee itself comprises of non-tribals such as the Sondis and the Patnaiks and includes numerous Schedule Caste members of the Dom Caste. It was formed to curtail the growing influence of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh who reclaimed vast hectares of Fifth schedule land from them.

The burning of the homes of the Dalits by the CMAS activists had taken place in the villages of Padapader, Tolagoomandi and Upurgoomandi in May of this year. The administration had provided the displaced with makeshift shelters, and after the 20th November firing, there are now only 329 Harijans out of 674 Harijans displaced  at the shelter.

The liquor prohibition diktats of the CMAS had also seriously hampered the liquor mafia whose stranglehold over the Narayanpatna tribals had all but vanished. There are reports that the liquor mafia has now reclaimed lost territory in Narayanpatna after the 20th November firing, after which the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh was suppressed and their members went into hiding.

When it came to the fact-finding team, the Shanti Committee was wary of the intentions of the fact-finding team, believing that they were there in the support of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh. Superintendent of Police, Koraput, Deepak Chouhan Kumar also had no sympathy for the fact-finding team, ‘We didn’t beat this ‘so-called’ fact-finding team, we protected them from the mob.’

The activists on the other hand claim that the mob was instigated by the police. Yet their case is not an isolated incident. There are many other activists and party workers who have been beaten, harassed, arrested and killed at Narayanpatna. A few members of the CPI (ML) (Liberation) and the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee who openly support the CMAS were beaten while returning from the funeral of the adivasis killed on the 20th November firing.

Tapan Mishra, an activist, who is associated with the CMAS, and is an official member of the legal CPI (ML) (Kanu Sanyal group), was arrested under Section 121 (waging war against the state) and 124A (Sedition). Amnesty International has already condemned his arrest and called for his unconditional release stating that he has no links with the Maoists and he was only arrested after it became known that he accompanied a seven member fact-finding team to Narayanpatna. Along with him, a member of the legal UCCRI (ML) (Unity Centre of Communist Revolution in India), was also arrested.

The deceased adivasis themselves were activists. K. Singanna was one of the leaders of the Chasi Mulia Adivasi Sangh and was allegedly shot ten times in the back. On the day of the shooting, it was alleged that the adivasis had gathered to protest the mistreatment of adivasi women that was taking place during combing operations.

The police claimed that they had fired in self-defence after the adivasis tried to seize weapons. The local press was only allowed into the area, some two hours later. And when they arrived, they found the camp shot full of arrows. Interestingly, the police had earlier barged into adivasi homes and confiscated traditional weapons during their combing operations.

Yet the murder of activists is not new to Narayanpatna. On the 9th of May 2008, Narayan Hareka was allegedly murdered on the outskirts of Narayanpatna. The police claimed he was killed in an accident while his wife and his colleagues believe he was murdered.

His body was found brutally disfigured – his eye had been gouged out, his neck was gashed and his hand was smashed in multiple places. He was alive when they first found him but barely cognizable. He was taken to the local PHC around 8:00pm but he had to be referred to Vishakapatnam. Yet the journey only commenced after numerous delays, at around 11:00pm. Narayan Hareka died just 20 kms from the PHC.

As an activist from the Kondh tribe, he struggled against the illegal liquor trade, the land alienation of the tribals, the debt trap and he was, during his last few days, investigating irregularities in the implementation of the NREGs. There was no secret that Hareka had made a lot of enemies amongst the powerful.

Yet it was always this debt-trap that led to the growing resentment between the tribals and the non-tribals at Narayanpatna. There was a known reality that the tribals often found themselves addicted to liquor and would end up parting with their lands and their freedom to cover the debts that alcohol had brought onto them. Bonded labour was not a secret in Narayanpatna. Nachika Linga, leader of the Charsi Mulia Adivasi Sangh, himself was a bonded labourer who used to receive around Rs.60 a year, just ten years ago.

When it came to the legal or illegal acquisition of tribal land by the non-tribals, the Joint Commissioner (Settlements) was instructed to receive complaints regarding the irregularities in the earlier 1961 settlement. However no one approached him. He instead recommended that the Adivasis take the matter to court. The recommendations were accepted by the Collector who had informed the lawyer Nihar Ranjan Patnaik, the President of the Bar Association, Koraput to take up the matter.

However, he’s not able to visit the Tehsildar at Narayanpatna to collect land records considering allegations that his life is in danger. He is instead dealing with a flood of cases regarding the arrests of many activists and villagers from Narayanpatna.

Adding to the woes of the tribals and the non-tribals, is the threat of rotting paddy as there is no one there to harvest it. Both the Collector and the Sub-Collector have made numerous visits to the area to assess the situation.

Oddly enough, the Shanti Committee even called for the suspension of the Collector of Koraput for his close association to the adivasis after the CMAS had burnt down their homes in May. Some have gone so far to condemn the fact that he speaks Jatapur, the local dialect.

The Collector, Gadhadhar Parida had initially brought both communities together for a hearing after the initial burnings of the village of Padepadar. He was eventually transferred for a period of four months during the elections, during which the situation had escalated beyond reconciliation.

‘90% of the people of Narayanpatna are tribals, and I’m not supposed to listen their grievances? And if I don’t who will?’ He says in his office on the day of the attack on the fact-finding committee.

Yet addressing the socio-economic causes are now further difficult and many activists have raised the alarm concerning mass atrocities. The Maoists too have called for punishment to vetted out to concerned parties. In a letter written to the press, Comrade Rumal, of the CPI (Maoist) Malkangiri Divisional Committee has called for a ‘death sentence’ to be delivered to the MLAs and MPs of Malkangiri and Koraput if the atrocities did not stop. Many observers believe this is just another attempt of the Maoists to hijack people’s movements. Similarly, observers find that the story that the CMAS is a Maoist-front, suspect, while Pramod Samantaraya, an award-winning journalist of Dhariti newspaper, an Oriya Daily, has his own idea.

‘Whether they’re supported by the Maoists or not, it’s irrelevant,’ he says, ‘their grievances are all too real. What the some people in the state want to do, is brand them as a Maoist-front so they can deal with the movement militarily.’

Yet the police can justify their reason for a presence in the area. Nine security personnel were killed in an IED blast at nearby Bandhugaun on the 18th of June 2009. The explosives used, were allegedly the same explosives stolen from the Nalco raid on the 12th of April, that left nine CISF personnel and five Maoists dead.

Similarly at Bandugaum, the Maoists have killed Bhogi Ramesh of Kattulapet village, Bijoy Pigal of Sulupolamada village and Balram Sahukar from Nellawadi village over the last year and a half. From neighbouring Khumbari, they also killed Patra Khosla from Bagam village. In all cases, the victims were described as police informers. In two cases the villagers were killed in complete arbitrary circumstances – without any knowledge of the allegations against them.